Travel Tuesday Top 10: Best US Airport Restaurants

by on September 18, 2012 · 29 comments

in Top 10

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This week, we asked TPG contributor Sarah Tomlinson to scour the nation’s airports for the finest airport dining establishments, and to our (not little) surprise, she found some fantastic options at some of the US’s busiest hubs.

Many travelers plan their airport time like a highly coordinated commando mission—get in and get out as quickly as possible. But more and more cities have stepped up their game in an attempt to transform their airports into cosmopolitan gateways that offer visitors a taste of the treats offered in their ports of call. So whether an unavoidably long layover means time to kill, or your travel plans have dictated an early arrival at the airport, it can actually be a great opportunity to have a good meal that provides a window into that particular city’s culinary delights. Here are the top 10 restaurants at domestic airports.

Flyers may want to opt out of Michelle Bernstein’s Delta BusinessElite menus and enjoy a delicious meal at One Flew South pre-flight instead.

1. One Flew South, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Terminal E: Since opening in 2009 as the “first upscale dining experience in the world’s busiest airport,” this instantly hot dining spot has earned raves, including a nod as one of Esquire’s “Best Bars in America” in 2011. Featuring fresh regional ingredients dolled up into exotic international cuisine, One Flew South is particularly known for its sushi menu and takeaway  – and, of course, delicious drink options that include plays on regional traditions, like the Basil Julep and the Georgia Bellini made with peach puree. Also taking delectable liberties with standard regional fare, dinner options include Pork Belly Sliders and Benton’s Bacon and Goat Cheese Salad, spotlighting one of the region’s finest purveyor of pork. Bonus: Not only has Chef Duane Nutter earned his stars and stripes on Iron Chef America, he’s also a known standup comedian.

Tortas Frontera at Chicago O’Hare.

2. Tortas Frontera, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Terminal 1, Gate B11; Terminal 3, Gate K4: Chicago may have long been known for deep dish pizza and Italian beef sausages, but a new flavor sensation is taking precedence of late, thanks to celebrity chef Rick Bayless, who made a name for himself hosting public television show Mexico—One Plate at a Time and as Bravo’s Top Chef Masters winner. He expanded his award-winning restaurant empire this year with two O’Hare locations. Maintaining his commitment to Mexican cuisine prepared using the freshest ingredients provided by local farms, his menu boasts handcrafted tortas (Mexican sandwiches) stuffed with chipotle chicken and beer-braised beef short ribs and freshly prepared guacamole. Wash it down with a hand-shaken margarita.

Legal Sea Foods has two airport locations at Boston Logan.

3. Legal Sea Foods, Logan International Airport, Terminal B (post-security) and Terminal C (pre-security): Boston boasts bounteous opportunities for noshing on the freshest possible seafood, including local standouts like oysters and clam chowder. The many Legal Sea Foods locations across the city are known for delivering high-quality dishes with a contemporary flair and precise attention to detail. The outposts at Logan Airport allow travelers to sample a well-curated selection of the restaurant’s fare, including its award-winning chowder, as well as lobster bisque, New England fried clams and the restaurant’s signature crab cakes. Not to mention the chance to tuck into a full steamed lobster dinner, or a freshly shucked lobster roll. Other draws include gluten-free and kid’s menus, as well as a full bar. An added draw: the restaurant’s refined décor is restful compared to the hustle and bustle of airport travel.

The Salt Lick’s Austin Airport location also has a taco bar.

4. The Salt Lick, Austin-Bergstrom International, West Concourse, Gate 12: Begun as a standalone barbeque pit in Driftwood, a town in the Hill Country of central Texas, the original Salt Lick location boasts nearly fifty years of family tradition and recipes packed into a menu that tempts visitors with the likes of brisket and pork ribs, plus a simple assortment of the side dishes pretty much universally accepted as the perfect flavor accompaniments to barbecued meat—Cole slaw, beans and potato salad. At the airport location, the restaurant clan also brings their love of meat to a taco bar, which offers brisket or pulled pork with eggs in their breakfast tacos in the a.m., as well as options sans eggs for lunch and dinner. There is a second airport location at the Central Terminal, Gate 10.

Encounter Restaurant at LAX.

5. Encounter Restaurant & Bar, Los Angeles International Airport, Not at a Terminal: While the Theme building at LAX may not seem quite as Space Age as it did when it first opened in 1961, the 135-foot white arches that support the restaurant now housed in it do exude classic modernist cool and are definitely a landmark. The dining experience to be had amid 360-degree views of LAX consistently lands this spot on lists of top airport dining options. Featuring “California Fresh” cuisine, the menu offers an international mélange of options, from a berry salad and ahi tuna tartare to entrees that include wild mushroom ravioli and blackened swordfish steak. Completing the Hollywood-esque experience is the Austin’s Apple martini, created to be served at the wrap party for the Austin Powers movie, which was held at the restaurant. Sort of like dining in a retro-cool flying saucer, the restaurant’s theme says it all: “It’s one alien abduction you’ll look forward to again and again.”

Deep Blue Sushi at Jetblue’s Terminal 5 comes courtesy of Buddakan chef Michael Schulson.

6. Deep Blue Sushi, JFK International Airport, Terminal 5, Post-security: Sushi is not the first cuisine that generally gets mentioned when it comes to either standout airport food, but the menu at Deep Blue Sushi was created by Chef Michael Schulson of revered Asian-fusion eatery Buddakan in the Chelsea Market in Manhattan, and has become something of a legend in its own right. The restaurant’s blue tiles create a cool, modern atmosphere while the varied menu includes sushi and udon soup, as well as heartier options like Pad Thai and fried rice, plus a full bar and an “On the Fly” option that features fresh sushi and sashimi to go.

Ivar’s at Seattle uses the same recipes originated by founder Ivar Haglund in 1938.

7. Ivar’s, Sea-Tac International Airport, Pacific Market Place, Central Terminal: While the airport location does not allow diners to take part in a tradition popular at the original pier-front restaurant – buying extra French fries to feed the squawking sea gulls – it does offer the same fabulously fresh fruits of the sea. They are proud to only serve halibut, salmon and Pacific True cod caught by a vessel known as the Katie Ann, and all fish is hand-cut and breaded daily, using the same recipes originated in 1938 by founder Ivar Haglund. The main attraction is the classic combo of fried seafood and chips, with some interesting additions to the standard fish ‘n chips (here done in Pacific True Cod), including the fish for which the region is best known: Pacific salmon ‘n chips. For those seeking a slightly less decadent (i.e. not fried) option, they also serve grilled platters featuring salmon or halibut, and Caesar salads with a variety of seafood toppings, including salmon and crab.

Ike’s Food and Cocktails in Minneapolis – try their famous Bloody Mary.

8. Ike’s Food and Cocktails, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Post-security: Old-school ambiance reigns in both the décor and menu at this upscale steakhouse spun off from the popular location in downtown Minneapolis, which has a 1940’s theme. In addition to the requisite steak options, other classic dishes include French dip sandwiches and burgers, as well as standard sides along the lines of thin cut French fries. Of course a classic meal calls for a classic cocktail, and the downtown location, at least, is particularly known for its stellar Bloody Mary.

42nd Street Oyster Bar at Raleigh Durham.

9. 42nd Street Oyster Bar, Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Terminal 2, Near gate C1: An outpost of the downtown location, which began serving oysters in 1931, this seafood-friendly haven features oysters just about any way it’s possible to eat them, including on the half shell, Rockefeller, fried, and steamed (served regular or spicy); plus regional favorites like crab cakes and blackened or fried catfish. The restaurant gets most of its seafood from its own fleet of ships on the coast. But also serves burgers and pasta for those who prefer the turf to the surf. For travelers who pass through in the morning, the breakfast menu is also full of abundant seafood options, including a Chesapeake Benedict featuring lump crab meat, and an oyster option, served on Low-Country-style grits, cooked in tasso gravy.

Beaudevin at Miami International Airport.

10. Beaudevin, Miami International Airport, Terminal D, Near Gate 24: Opened in early 2011, this 42-seat wine bar pays direct homage to the Brussels Airport wine bar of the same name. A fairly large selection of vino is offered in the restaurant’s wine-tasting section, and while the wine list is not particularly adventurous, it does offer a wide range of reliable international options. The menu, created by Boston-based celebrity chef Todd English, includes tapas items like Serrano ham & mozzarella, caprese skewers, charcuterie and artisan cheese plates, available for sit-down meals and takeaway. Also of note are the new Beaudevin location that was just debuted in early 2012 at Chicago’s O’Hare, and the location slated to open at the San Diego International Airport in 2013.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • THEsocalledfan

    As a regular flyer at MSP, I can assure you that Ike’s is post security. It is just past the shopping mall area on the way to terminal C and D.

  • the hustle blog

    Any suggestions for SFO? I might have some time there in November if I chase the Dreamliner.

  • Ertrer

    Neely’s Interstate BBQ in Memphis is pretty solid as well.

  • kyle

    yeah came here to post this…

    ike’s is solid.

  • John

    Legal Seafood also has a “Test Kitchen” resto in Boston Logan’s Terminal A, and the food there is actually very good. Sometimes better than the mainline.

    Deep Blue Sushi is ok, but I actually think the food at the La Vie, the French brasserie is better. Its a small resto with mostly just a bar, but quality ingredients/preparation.

  • Melvin J Moon

    I think it’s obvious that TPG is not writing these Top 10 posts but rather Eric or perhaps Kate is. The writing style is different from TPG’s posts and similar to Eric’s. However, I am confused why the by line then says “The Points Guy”. Is it that readers are much more likely to read TPG’s posts than Eric’s?

  • ASW

    The Winter 2011 issue of USAA magazine had an article with great airport eats (listed below). Anyone tried these places?

    I haven’t flown through PHL, but if I did I’d love to try the Crab Fries at Chickie’s & Pete’s.

    LAX – Karl Strauss Microbrewery / Terminal 7
    LAX – Encounter / Theme Building

    DEN – Denver Chophouse / A Concourse
    DEN – Boulder Beer Taphouse / Main Terminal

    LAS – Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill / Terminal C
    LAS – Flatbreadz / B Terminal

    PHL – Chickie’s & Pete’s / Terminals A-West, C & E

    JFK – Piquillo / Terminal 5

    MIA – Islander Bar & Grill / Concourse D, Gate 49
    MIA – La Carreta Restaurant / Concourse D, Gate 37

    DFW – Cousins Bar-B-Q / Terminal D, Gate 28 & Terminal B, Gate 27
    DFW – La Bodega Winery / Terminal D, Gate 14

    ATL – One Flew South Concourse E (already noted by TPG)
    ATL – Cafe Intermezzo / Concourse B

  • Arglebargle

    The Firewood Grill has yet to do me wrong. I go to the one post-security in the International Terminal.

    I can’t speak for the airport version, but I’m a fan of Andale, the retaurant, in Los Gatos. The branding looks the same.

  • nitzguy

    AOL Travel had a good article for local flavors at airports.

    I can’t comment on too many of them myself, but I will vouch for the BUF Anchor Bar.

  • MileValue

    There are several Chick-Fil-As (ATL A) and Bojangles (CLT) around the country that should make up 1-5 :)

  • Coolandjiggy

    Never understood people like you. If you have problems with a blog, just go away.

  • Spiro

    It’s worth mentioning that Tortas Frontera at ORD, despite being set up like a quick-service restaurant, is INCREDIBLY slow. Almost missed my boarding waiting for a sandwich. If they had more seating I suppose I wouldn’t have assumed it would be quick, but the 12 people standing around holding receipts not eating should have been a clue. Rick Bayless’s Xoco in Chicago’s River North has the same problem, lots of standing around waiting.

  • AP

    DEN – Boulder Beer Taphouse is a solid choice

    PHL- Chickie & Pete’s the Crab Fries are great!

    ATL- Cafe Intermezzo – the bartenders can make a great Old Fashion’d

  • thepointsguy

    It’s not in my style because its a contributors post. the first line of this post reads “This week, we asked TPG contributor Sarah Tomlinson to scour the nation’s airports for the finest airport dining establishments, and to our (not little) surprise, she found some fantastic options at some of the US’s busiest hubs.”

  • Gs90402

    Javier’s at John Wayne airport near Southwest gates just opened this year and offers some of the finest Mexican food in USA. Ike’s is always great at MSP. Theres a new fast food restaurant at SLC which offers great burritos-struggling with the name.

  • Michael

    SFO Terminal 2 is spectacular. By far the best in the country. Just had a great steak and cheese at Tyler Florence for ten bucks. Great vibe in the terminal too —

  • Ben

    Ike’s is great, but Surdyk’s Flights is also worth checking out. I can also confirm it is post security. The only pre-security restaurant I can think of is Hot Dish.

  • Ben

    Just went to Frontera tonight for dinner. It is a take out place with about 20 bar seats if you are lucky. With essentially no line, it took 10 minutes for a torta. I had the time and it was quite good. Sucks eating something that good out of a cardboard box in the food court though… If it looks like there are a lot of people looking at the menu, they are actually waiting for their food. If you are pressed for time, look elsewhere.

  • Art S.

    Agree with Surdyk’s… double-bonus that the Humphrey Terminal is getting one, too.

  • Tombernasnki

    Bar Symon at PIT is the best airport restaurant and really sets the stage for the next generation of airport dining.

  • GlobTrot

    Also, French Meadows is great place to grab a quick bite at MSP. They have an interesting menu

  • Andy

    I can’t believe Ivar’s made this list. They have nicer restaurants in the Seattle area, but the airport location is just like their fast food locations. A better option at Seatac is Anthony’s, which has much better seafood and is an actual restaurant with it’s own seating.

  • Chemist661

    I agree with the comment that Anthony’s is much better than Ivars. (In our experience, Anthony’s beat Ivar’s both at their waterfront locations and at the airport. My wife loves the salmon & chips at Anthony’s and the rest of their seafood is very good. :)

  • Tt

    IAH’s Pappadeaux

  • FLL Rich

    I like Harry Caray’s restaurant inside security at Midway. Pleasant surprise for a fairly small airport.

  • Bianca Berger

    As soon as I saw this article I was beyond eager to share my 2 cents by raving about Tortas Frontera Grill, only to find it as #2 on the list. I average at least a meal a week there. I should have known the Points Guy would know about what I thought was my jackpot secret of delicious airport food. Clearly there is a reason why he has a popular blog and not me!
    For MSP, Surdyks is a great recommendation as well!

  • idims

    Upscale eating at airports is not a new phenomenon, although, like much else in travel, things degraded for a long while. We should all take time to remember the Newarker, a destination restaurant (i.e., people went there on purpose, not just to pass time while in transit) at the Newark Airport:

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  • tony_insulator

    Wow!! this list will definitely help people to find which food point is best for them.

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